If you have been following the England men’s Test cricket team this summer, you might have heard a new term being used to describe their approach to the game: Bazball. But what is Bazball and what exactly does it mean and where did it come from?
What is Bazball and Who came up with the term Bazball?
Bazball is an informal cricketing term coined during the 2022 English cricket season by ESPN Cricinfo UK editor Andrew Miller on an episode of the Switch Hit podcast. It commonly refers to the style of play of the England national cricket team after the appointments of Brendon McCullum (whose nickname is ‘Baz’) as Test cricket head coach, and Ben Stokes as England Test cricket captain, by English cricket managing director Rob Key, in May 20221.
What is Bazball Theory?
The Bazball style and mindset is said to have an emphasis on taking positive decisions in attack and defence, whether batting or in the field. It involves scoring runs at a fast pace, putting pressure on the opposition bowlers, and taking wickets with aggressive bowling and fielding. It also requires a high level of fitness, adaptability and resilience from the players.
Bazball is inspired by the philosophy and tactics of McCullum, who was known for his aggressive stroke play and innovative captaincy as a player for New Zealand. He led his team to a World Cup final in 2015 and several memorable Test victories with his attacking approach. He also holds the record for the fastest Test century, scored off just 54 balls against Australia in 2016.
McCullum’s tenure as England’s coach coincided with a turnaround in the fortunes of the England Test cricket team. The side had won only one Test match in the seventeen played prior to the hiring of Stokes and McCullum, with previous captain Joe Root “emotionally shattered after leading a struggling side through two difficult years which included multiple tours with testing Covid -enforced restrictions“.
With no dramatic change to the players selected, England “against all odds” experienced success: “their bowlers rose to the challenge, taking 20 wickets in six of the seven Test matches, while their batters scored at unprecedented pace. England won six of their seven Tests this summer, their second-most in a single season anywhere in the world.” Only once (in 2004) had they won more, and in the time since “they had not even matched six wins, let alone bettered it.”
One of the most remarkable examples of Bazball was England’s 74-run win in Rawalpindi against Pakistan last December. England scored 921 runs in 136.5 overs (a run-rate of 6.73) and bowled Pakistan out for 579 and 268 in a total of 252 overs, to win with around 20 minutes of light remaining on a flat pitch where Australia had drawn nine months earlier.
Since Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum took charge, the team have scored at 4.85 runs per over overall. This is significantly higher than any other team or captain in Test cricket history (see table below). Bazball has also helped England climb up the ICC Test rankings from sixth to third place.
Bazball has not only brought success to England, but also entertainment to the fans and viewers. Eoin Morgan, who captained England to their first World Cup title in 2019 with a similar approach in white-ball cricket, told ESPN Cricinfo that cricket from the Ben Stokes-Brendon McCullum partnership was “some of the best Test match series I’ve ever watched in my life” and that it was in the process of altering the notions and ideas that had been in place since the inaugural Test in 1877.
Critics of Bazball
Bazball is not without its critics, however. Some have questioned its sustainability, especially in overseas conditions where pitches may not favour fast scoring or seam bowling. Some have also argued that it is disrespectful to the traditions and nuances of Test cricket, and that it may undermine the skills and temperament required for the longer format. McCullum himself has voiced concern that the term can’t express the nuances of the England team’s approach or his management style.
What is Bazball will face its ultimate test this summer, when England take on Australia in the Ashes, the oldest and most prestigious rivalry in cricket. Australia are the current holders of the urn, having retained it after a drawn series in England in 2019. They are also the reigning world Test champions, having beaten India in the final earlier this year. They have a formidable batting line-up led by Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, and a fearsome pace attack featuring Pat Cummins, Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood.
Will Bazball be enough to overcome the Aussies and reclaim the Ashes for England? Or will it backfire and expose England’s weaknesses? The answer will be revealed over the next five weeks, as the two teams battle it out across five Test matches at Edgbaston, Lord’s, Headingley, Old Trafford and The Oval. Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: Bazball will make for some thrilling and unpredictable cricket.
I hope you are now clear as to what is Bazball.
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